Portuguese marisqueria seems fishy.

Another excursion to the Ironbound section of Newark last night, this time to celebrate a friend’s quitting her Newark-based job and starting one in Harlem next week (replacing one hell of a commute from Ft. Greene with another – what about good old Midtown?).

Some Portuguese friends of hers had recommended Seabra’s Marisqueria, at 87 Madison St. (just off of Ferry St), and we wandered in to the back of the tile-clad restaurant to be seated (there is a circular bar in front that provides a less stuffy atmosphere than the back room, and if I ever went again, I’d sit there).  Indeed, the back room seems to be set up for large families with tables that could be easily pushed together for groups of 20 or more – perhaps inspiring the recommendation.  The service was “relaxed” – perhaps the food took a long time to cook, but it was easily one of the longer pre-meal waits I’ve had in a while, particularly considering the emptiness of the space.

As to the dishes – I presented a glowing recommendation for bacalhau (cod) that had most of us jonesing for it, so my roommate and I ordered the special version called “Codfish with macaroni” ($13) – I figured this didn’t describe the dish nearly adequately enough, and I was right.  In a portion so big that three of us probably could have shared one bowl, a flavorful soup featuring big brown beans, kale, and mini penne (that certainly weren’t al dente) surrounded large hacked up pieces of fish – bone in.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not wild about fish with the bones left in – particularly not cod or cod-like fish, where the bones are not easily removed, or the meat easily picked off.  (Too many memories of improperly filleted bluefish from my youth, I guess.)  In stew form, this problem is magnified – the most efficient way to work with the dish would seem to be to fish out the fish and debone, which in part entails making smaller chunks, then throw it back in the stew.  Awkward, to say the least.  

It also didn’t help that the cod was dryer than it needed to be.  I assume this fish was fresh, given that the bones and skin remained, but I’ve had reconstituted dried bacalhau taste more moist and flavorful than this, thanks to my stepfather’s bacalhau stew.  The broth recipe, though, was spot-on: both I and my roommate noted that we would have gladly consumed just the soup, or the soup and noodles.

The job-changing friend got a different preparation of bacalhau, called grelhado ($18).  Again, not filleted – but this time served with some delicious stewed green peppers, a gravy boat full of sizzling oil with chopped garlic, and onions.  I didn’t taste the steamed potatoes that came with (skinned potatoes, but not skinned fish?), but my roommate said they were good, if you avoided the grease and oil.

Our last friend is a bit of a picky eater, apparently (I’m not sure how she survived Spicy Mina with me), and so ordered the special Beef Medallions ($15).  They (at least three huge pieces of meat) arrived on a huge platter, sided with rice and kale and topped with mushrooms that, while large, were certainly canned.  Disappointing, except for the fresh fried potato chips that were on the side (not as good as my roommate’s favorite Spanish restaurant, though).

I don’t know, I was expecting something more from Seabra’s, and it (unlike the excellent, earlier-reviewed Tapajos River Steakhouse) wasn’t really worth the trip to Newark.  I drowned my sorrows in some kind of pastry at the Rivera bakery on Ferry St. afterwards.  The combination of coffee, cigarette smoke, and pastry smells gave me a momentary European flashback – something Ironbound is always good for.

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